Beating and overriding a horse is deemed cruel under Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
You would never guess that from a day at the races, including
Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival and its showpiece, the Melbourne Cup.
Racing, it seems, relies on beating and overriding horses to achieve
The fact this year’s Caulfield Cup winner and Melbourne Cup
favourite, Admire Rakti, collapsed and died in his stall just minutes
after pulling up last in the “race that stops the nation” has focused
public attention on the risks of racing and how much is too much.
Another runner, Araldo, was put down after breaking his leg while
returning to the mounting yard. Vets are saying Admire Rakti died of acute heart failure, but speculation is mounting about the welfare of racehorses in general.
Despite public concern at the horses' deaths, there has been little
media coverage of the fact Admire Rakti’s jockey, Zac Purton, was fined
for having whipped the horse excessively during the recent Caulfield
Cup. But was he charged under Victoria’s animal protection laws? Don’t
bet on it.
Rules of Racing restrict whip use, or not
For racehorses, a lower set of legal standards called the Rules of Racing
applies. These are developed and enforced by the racing industry for
the racing industry. The rules offer scant protection against cruelty,
allowing jockeys to whip and push tired horses beyond their safe
Do this outside racing and you could face fines under the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals Act of up to $36,312 (significantly more for a
body corporate), or 12 months' imprisonment. If you are in racing,
however, especially in the Melbourne or Caulfield Cups, you stand to win
millions and receive public adulation.
While the Rules of Racing attempt to regulate whip use, they are
complex and difficult to enforce, and penalties are low. For example,
the number of backhand strikes is not regulated at all. The number of
forehand strikes is limited until the last 100 metres, after which “a
rider may use his whip at his discretion”, as long as this is not deemed
“excessive, unnecessary or improper”.
The rider must also not whip a horse with “an action that raises his
arm above shoulder height”, “when his horse is clearly winning”, “when
his horse is out of contention”, when it is “showing no response”, or
“has no reasonable prospect of improving or losing its position”. The
whip has to be padded and the rider must ensure that the seam of the
flap is not the point of contact, “unless the rider satisfies the
Stewards that this was neither deliberate nor reckless”.
You’d think from all these rules the whip would hardly be used at all
in Australian racing. Nothing could be further from the truth, as
watching most races will show you. Empirical data indicate that 98% of horses are whipped during racing, which amounts to more than a million whip strikes per year.
Penalties are little deterrent
It is telling that in the past six Melbourne Cups, which had total
prizes exceeding $36 million (excluding trophies), only four jockeys
were penalised a total of $3,900 for whip strike breaches, with two
being repeat offenders. Last year, Red Cadeaux’s jockey, Gerald Mosse, was fined $1,000 for his whip use. For running second in the Cup, Red Cadeaux won $900,000, of which 5% - $45,000 - went to the jockey.
In this year’s Melbourne Cup, Michael Rodd was fined $400 for his whip use on Precedence. The sixth-placed Precedence won $125,000, of which $6,250 went to the jockey. Rodd was also fined $1,000 for his ride on Red Cadeaux in the 2011 Melbourne Cup.
And what was Purton fined for whipping Admire Rakti excessively in
this year’s Caulfield Cup? His $3,000 fine was dwarfed by his $87,500
share of the winnings, and certainly by the owners’ prize money of $1.75
million plus the $150,000 trophy.
The deterrent factor, therefore, for breaches of the whip rules is low,
which is clear from this media report:
Purton was thrilled with the win and said he rode the
horse how he liked to be ridden, and how he was trained to be ridden
If the owners or the jockey regretted the “excessive” whip use, this didn’t received media coverage.
The soft-touch approach to policing the use of the whip, and other
issues such as over-riding, can be attributed to the self-regulatory
nature of the racing industry. Independent animal welfare agencies like
the RSPCA, which supports a ban on whipping,
do not oversee the treatment of racehorses; the racing industry does.
But what the racing industry thinks is acceptable does not always align
with broader community expectations or animal welfare science.
No whips needed: Norway proves it
Racing Victoria continues to deny the fact that horses feel pain
when being whipped despite having no evidence to support this. All of
the racing industry’s justifications for the continued use of the whip –
mostly to do with safety, control and performance – have now been discredited by scientific research or have no scientific basis.
Perhaps the best example of the futility of whipping can be found in
Norway. In 1982, the Norwegian government recognised the absurdity and
cruelty of allowing whipping in one context but not in another and made
whipping racehorses illegal. So, for the past 30 years, jockeys have
raced thoroughbreds in Norway without whipping them.
In every race in Norway, the fastest horse that crosses the line
first wins. Prize money is collected and bets paid out. Plainly, this is
compelling evidence that the horse that is best trained and best ridden
without the use of a whip will still win.
It’s time to do away with the double standards that deny racehorses
the full protection of Australian animal welfare laws. Horses should not
be beaten with whips and pushed beyond their physical limits, no matter
what the financial incentives might be. The law does not have to be an
ass, no matter how glamorous the circumstances.